Friday, 2 February 2018

DEAR PRUDENCE PART TWO : THE LIFE AND TIMES OF PRUDENCE HYMAN


IT'S ONLY NATURAL that when we think of the ladies of the classic Hammer Horror films, we think of the countless, beautiful women that will forever be as associated with the studio's name as that of Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing. We think of names such as Ingrid Pitt or, First Lady of Hammer: Hazel Court. However, the first woman to become anything but beautiful for the studio, was the unknown, Prudence Hyman. Subsequently, it was after the release of 'THE GORGON' (1965),  that Hammer would begin a long legacy of these dangerous females. And all of it began with an ex-ballerina and ENSA performer named, Prudence Hyman.


LONG BEFORE she would become Hammer's Gorgon, 'Megaera,' Prudence Hythe was born in London, England on February 2, 1914. She was a classically trained ballerina who studied in England and  Paris and made her dancing debut at the age of seventeen in 'Twelfth Night.'  Between 1934-1935, she toured with various ballet companies, and during the second World War, she was a member of  ENSA; a traveling group of artists whose purpose was to entertain the troops. It was while she was a member of the ENSA group, that Prudence and her fellow members were once flown to safety during a harrowing adventure through a horrible storm. The group's hero was a young, Royal Air Force Lieutenant that, interestingly, she would manage to meet-up with many years later: None other than Christopher Lee.



IN 1960, Prudence played a small, uncredited role alongside the once brave pilot in Hammer's, House of Fright / The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll. She played the part of a tavern woman, while Paul Massie took on the dual role of the mad scientist. However, it would be four years later that Prudence Hyman would make horror history: She would be the first female monster in Hammer's long, Gothic-style film legacy. 


#CUSHINGFEMMEFATALESFRIDAY! Blue Scar is a little seen 1949 British drama film, directed by documentary filmmaker Jill Craigie, set in a Welsh village where the coal mine has recently been nationalised. It focuses on the relationship between Olwen Williams, a miner's daughter who leaves the village to live in London, and Tom Thomas, (Emrys Jones) who dedicates his life to working in the mine. Prudence Hyman plays a small role as Moira Thalberg , who shares a dorm with Tom's girlfriend, Gwynneth Vaughan played by Olwen Williams, when Gwynneth wins a scholarship to attend singing school....


THE GORGON was one of the last films to have been produced by Hammer during their six-year distribution deal with Columbia Pictures. Seeing as their last two films had been shelved by the distributor, the studio needed something new and exciting that would bring audiences back to the theater. To do so, they went straight to the public itself. An advertisement was placed in 'The Daily Cinema' magazine, in which the film company was soliciting stories from anyone with a good idea.The last line of the advertisement read as follows: "Because good, compulsive selling ideas with the right titles are what Hammer are looking for right now." Of the many submissions, a story by J. Llewellyn Divine was selected. It was a rather involved and lengthy story. But, after a bit of re-writing and initially naming the script, "Supernatural", the script was rewritten a second time and given the name, The Gorgon.


#CUSHINGFEMMEFATALESFRIDAY! Prudence Hyman's appearance as 'Megaera,' in Hammer films 'THE GORGON' is just two years away, as Prudence appears in three episodes of 'Richard The Lionheart' as Queen Eleanor in 1962. In the mid 1950's soon to be mega money producer, Lew Grade kick started a whole trend of Sword, Sandals and Jousting copy cats tv series when he sank all his capital into 'Robin Hood' with actor Richard Greene, filling the Lincoln Green tights. It was a mega success. So a whole raft of other medieval style tv romps followed : Roger Moore as Ivanhoe, The Saint was just around the corner. William Russell as Sir Lancelot. Conrad Phillips as William Tell . . and all at sea with Terence Morgan, playing Sir Francis Drake. And so, who would have thought, Richard The Lionheart would be next? Taking more than a nod from Robin and his Merry chaps, this show even had its own rousing theme song . . "Richard, the Lionheart, wrote a page in England's book of fame. History shall long recall his name." . . . . hmm.

SHOOTING BEGAN in December of 1963 at Bray Studios,where The Evil of Frankenstein had just wrapped production. Due to budget and time constraints,as well as to give the set the look and feel of 1910, many of the same interior sets from The Evil of Frankenstein were redressed and used for The Gorgon. The film starred Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Hammer's most famous female star of the time.The "First Leading Lady of British Horror," Barbara Shelley. On board as director was, in my humble opinion, the man who made Hammer Horror what it is: The legendary Terence Fisher (February 23, 1904-June 18, 1980). 



IN THE ROLE of 'Carla Hoffman', Barbara Shelley had wanted to simultaneously play the role of the title character. As the film's possessed, amnesiac heroine, she felt that the dual role would make the storyline more sensible and fluid; that it should be she who "gorgonized" the film's victims. She also had a few ideas for producer Anthony Nelson Keys on how to make Megaera more frightening and realistic as well. Her idea consisted of using real garden snakes, and to find a way to humanely weave them into a special wig. However, due to the film's budget and short production schedule, Nelson rejected her idea, and chose instead to use another actress to play the part: Prudence Hyman.



NELSON KEYS ALSO FELT that with a different actress playing the part, it would help to conceal the Gorgon's alternate, "human" identity. Although, after seeing The Gorgon herself on screen, the producer had regretted his decision about Shelley's wig idea. It's difficult to say if it was Hyman herself, or the costume which disappointed Nelson. Nonetheless, Christopher Lee's opinion of Megaera was also less-than-flattering: "The only thing wrong with The Gorgon, is The Gorgon!" Fortunately, fans today are less unforgiving.


TO CREATE THE APPEARANCE of The Gorgon and her snakes, makeup man Roy Ashton applied the hideous skin and makeup to Hyman, while special effects engineer, Syd Pearson, had a bit more of a challenge by creating the snakes themselves. Pearson had twelve plaster moulds made, and from each mould he cast latex rubber snakes.


CABLES WERE THEN PLACED through each of the snakes' bodies for movement, and were then woven through the actress' wig. Each snake was then individually attached to cables which ran down Hyman's back. The cables trailed approximately twenty-five feet behind her where they were controlled by a large contraption which contained pegs. As the pegs were turned, the tension gave the effect of each snake moving individually.



THE GORGON FINISHED PRODUCTION in January, 1964, and was double-billed with Curse Of The Mummy's Tomb. Although we only see The Gorgon herself for less than twenty minutes throughout the entire film, each shot of Prudence Hyman's 'Megaera' is a treat, to say the least. The cinematography of Michael Reed is simply superb and, in true Hammer form, the sets are gorgeous. Hyman herself moves with a grace and elegance that one would expect from a former ballerina. Incredibly, she went back to playing uncredited roles for the studio. She was given small parts in Rasputin: The Mad Monk, and The Witches, which were both were released in 1966. 


IT IS TRULY INTERESTING to know that an unknown actress with no starring roles, or major parts, made horror film history as one of it's first female monsters; and the first for Hammer. Sadly, the name Prudence Hyman remains rather unknown, and The Gorgon has only recently become appreciated as one of Hammer's lesser known and hidden gems. Very little has been written about Prudence Hyman, or her incredible contribution to the horror genre. As is normally the case with so many important people throughout history, it is not in their lifetimes that they are appreciated, or even understand what they have accomplished while they're alive: such was the case with Prudence Hyman. She died at the age of 81 on June 1, 1995 and was put to rest in her birthplace of London, England. 


Prudence Hyman was a bright young dancer when English ballet was emerging. She was lithe and slim, possessing a clean technique, quite notable for those days. Nurtured by the redoubtable Marie Rambert, she created a variety of roles in early ballets by such budding choreographers as Susan Salaman, Frank Staff, Frederick Ashton, Wendy Toye, Andree Howard and Anthony Tudor. She danced Maria in Cross Gartered, Tudor's first ballet, in 1931, based on the Malvolio episode from Twelfth Night. She also created the part of Eve in Tudor's Adam and Eve to Constant Lambert's music for the Camargo Society at the Delphi Theatre, in 1932.



She danced Vamp de Luxe in Susan Salaman's Le Boxing to music by Lord Berners, and was also in Andree Howard's Death and the Maiden (to music by Schubert) and Ashton's dances for Purcell's Fairy Queen. She danced classical roles in Swan Lake, Les Sylphides, Carnaval and Spectre de la Rose and her Bluebird in Aurora's Wedding was exceptionally brilliant. Arnold Haskell was in raptures about it!


BORN PRUDENCE Hythe, in London in 1914, she was trained by English teachers and in Paris by Russian teachers, Lubov Egorova and Olga Preobrajenska. She built her career with Rambert, and blossomed into ballerinadom on the tiny Mercury Theatre stage, where Ashley Dukes and his wife Marie Rambert, had established their centre for dance and drama : The Ballet Club


IT CAUGHT THE FANCY of the intelligentsia, and became fashionable, eventually famous. The audience capacity was 99 persons; everything was done on a shoestring. Dukes, a translator of plays, presented his international play seasons during the weekdays with such masterpieces as The Man with the Load of Mischief and Mandragola, and on Sunday evenings "Mim" had the theatre for her Ballet Club. It was said that in those days of Sunday-night performances at the club, dancers, whatever their status, received a shilling a performance. Madame Rambert continually lost her stars; they had to earn a living.



PRUDENCE DANCED BRIEFLY with de Basil's Ballets Russes (1934-35) and then toured with the Markova-Dolin ballet. During the Second World War she made some appearances with the London Ballet at the Arts Theatre in lunchtime concerts and toured abroad with Ensa. Back in England, she turned to commercial theatre, making notable appearances with Walter Crisham, Hermione Gingold and Hermione Baddeley in intimate revues, a form of entertainment then extremely popular.



ALL MUSICALS needed dancers and PRUDENCE worked in BOTH record breaking productions of PAINT YOUR WAGON in 1951 and 1953 in the WEST END London.

ABOVE: WHILE APPEARING IN the ballet 'BETTER LATE' in 1946. Prudence took this opportunity to appear in a PATHE NEW ITEM to give a little plug to the show! Thus proving the old adage, ANY publicity is GOOD publicity. Floral Dog Collars, indeed!


A SHORT TIME, after the Second World War, Prudence married Lt R. L Beckley from the USA and disappeared from the ballet scene. . . . but ballet's loss would be for a short time, theatre, film and televisions gain . . 



DEAR PRUDENCE PART TWO
was edited and compiled by Marcus Brooks. Sections of this feature previously appeared in Part One of Dear Prudence written by KB Zorka. Sections of the Independent newspaper Prudence Hyman obituary June 25th 1995, was used as reference and source material.


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